If you’re still picturing Dungeons & Dragons as merely the domain of fantasy nerds closeted in basements, you need to make a perception check.
After all, Hasbro recently bought DnDBeyond.com, one of the most popular digital toolsets and platforms for people to play D&D online, from fan platform Fandom for $146.3 million in cash. And the first D&D Direct livestream announcing 2022’s remaining Dungeons & Dragons releases for the year — including the return of popular adventure campaign settings, Starjammer and Dragonlance — caused “Dungeons & Dragons” to spike in real-time Google searches on Thursday, and several phrases such as “Spelljammer,” “Dragonlance” and the hashtag #dnddirect to land among the top Twitter trends in the U.S. on Thursday.
There’s also a Dungeons & Dragons movie with Chris Pine in production, and a D&D musical, “Here There Be Dragons — A New Musical Quest,” set to premiere off-Broadway in June at the NYC Players Theatre. And the game has also featured prominently in the Netflix
hit “Stranger Things,” which recently dropped its season four trailer — and appeared to include a familiar D&D monster.
So why are so many people getting on board with D&D? For background, here’s a brief rundown of how the role-playing game works.
An organizer referred to as the “dungeon master” or “game master” either creates a quest from scratch, or picks a pre-made adventure from one of the D&D sourcebooks (sold by Wizards of the Coast, which is owned by Hasbro
) which roughly outlines a campaign filled with friendly and enemy encounters, puzzles, traps and treasures. Players create their own characters who will navigate this journey in a group called the party. And many do so using free online character builders from platforms such as D&D Beyond, which pay royalties to Hasbro.
As far as gameplay goes, the players improvise what happens next in the story that’s being guided by the game master. They roll dice to determine whether their characters’ actions are successful or not. Does the sorcerer hit that horde of zombies with a fireball? It depends on how high she rolls. (And the dungeon master may throw curveballs, like announcing that a dragon suddenly appears, to keep players on their toes.) This is why the game is often referred to as a collaborative storytelling exercise; everyone improvises the adventure together.
These campaigns can play out over weeks and months, with players meeting in person or videoconferencing over services like Zoom
once a week or so.
Even before “Stranger Things” pushed D&D squarely into mainstream pop culture in 2016, the game had been a cult hit growing its audience since the 1970s. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic helped fuel a 33% spike in D&D sales in 2020 as many people found themselves stuck at home and looking for something new to do — such as, perhaps, roleplaying with friends over Zoom.
Indeed, Hasbro’s press release notes that 80% of D&D fans have played the game virtually as of 2021, which has pushed players toward online platforms such as D&D Beyond and Roll 20 to run their games. So it’s not surprising that Hasbro would buy the digital D&D toolset. “Over the last three years, the royalty paid to Hasbro by D&D Beyond has represented a significant contribution to the fastest growing source of revenue for Dungeons & Dragons,” Hasbro said in a statement.
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And while Hasbro
stock has slumped 18.7% for the year to date, its Wizards of the Coast subsidiary — which owns D&D and the Magic: The Gathering card game — has been a bright spot. (Although at least one investor has been pushing for Hasbro to spin off the Wizards of the Coast and Digital Gaming unit.) Wizards of the Coast generated more than $1.3 billion in revenue in 2021 — the first time it’s ever passed the $1 billion mark — which included about $950 million in tabletop game sales.
Meanwhile, D&D Beyond now counts almost 10 million registered users on the online platform. “This strategic acquisition … will further strengthen Hasbro’s capabilities in the fast-growing digital tabletop category while also adding veteran talents to the Wizards of the Coast team and accelerating efforts to deliver exceptional experiences for fans across all platforms,” Hasbro added in the release. It plans to use D&D Beyond as a direct channel to players, for data gathering and to inform new products, services and tools.
What’s more, D&D has also become a hot commodity in streaming. Audiences have been gravitating toward watching other people play D&D in livestreams on Alphabet’s
YouTube and Amazon’s
Twitch. Indeed, when a Twitch hacker leaked source code and streamers’ incomes in October 2021, it was revealed that the Critical Role account — a seven-year-old group of voice actors that streams their Dungeons & Dragons sessions on YouTube and Twitch, and recently announced two new spinoff series — had scored more than $9.6 million from Twitch payouts during the previous two years. Critical Role counts 1.67 million YouTube subscribers, and 1.1 million Twitch followers.
The bottom line: Dungeons & Dragons has leveled up into the digital age.